On the Steps of Justice
The steps of the courthouse, the street just beyond, was packed with milling screaming chaos. Reporters, supporters, protesters, all bearing aloft signs with their chosen slogan, professing their chosen stance. Cameras flashing in rapid bursts, capturing an image being celebrated and despised. “Richard Rocky Foster found innocent! Prosecution thrown in contempt for arguing with the judge! Richard Rocky Foster, found innocent!” Mr. Foster himself sashayed confidently down the steps, parting the crowd before him with a greasy smile and whispered word to his police escort, bandying with the fullisade of questions being launched at him by the news-hungry paperboys. “Mr. Foster! How does it feel to be a free man!” “Mr. Foster, what are you going to do now?” “Mr. Foster, do you blame the increasing gang rivalry for catching you in this situation with the St. Johns murder?” “Mr. Foster, this!” “Mr. Foster, that!” Piranhas soaking up the blood of the next big story, pushing aside the line of condescending missionaries preaching at the top of their lungs about the misfortune of those who let evil walk free.
Noel watched it all from the shadow of the courthouse’s pillars, content for once to let his most recent client contend with the tumult of the limelight on his own. He grinned, lighting a cigarette, feeling a thrill of perverse justification at the bewildered look in Rocky Foster’s eyes, the eagerness of the fedora-clad reporters and photographers, the righteous anger of the preachy church-girls in their conservative buttoned up dresses. A frenzy of emotion. And all because of him. Noel Locksley. Who the bad guys come to when they need a good lawyer. No, not a good lawyer. The best. It made him chuckle silently to himself, exhaling a smooth cloud of smoke. He didn’t do this for the attention, or for the pleasure of stirring half of the city to an uproar. But it was certainly one of the perks.
He sucked hard on the cigarette one last time, then dropped it to the ground and carefully extinguished it with the heel of his expensive leather shoe, eyes surveying the scene before him from the relative safety of his shadowy hiding place. The crowd was beginning to disperse; Rocky stepped lithely into the back of a long black car, shut inside by his probation officers. No doubt being ferried away to a high-rise hotel full of gin and hookers and celebratory fellow thugs. Not that Noel felt guilty at all about getting the louse off. Rocky talked big, but his following was small, barely even worth being called a gang, and he lacked the brains and the brutality to make anything more out of what he already had. Guys like those, the ones who would never be anything more than dumb killers and inept swindlers . . . Noel pitied them. He wasn’t an Old Testament sort of guy; an eye for an eye had never been his way. “Ask him,” he would always say, whenever someone asked him why he bothered defending trash like Rocky. “Ask him his life story. Ask him about how his father beat him, his mom ignored him, his uncle molested him, his schoolmates bullied him. Ask him how no one’s ever bothered to try and show him better, so now being a ‘bad guy’ is all he knows how to do.” Noel pitied guys like Rocky, and their circumstances, and he didn’t mind who knew it. Stepping down onto the courthouse steps, he threw a baleful glare at the missionary girls, still parading and shouting with their signs even as night fell and the rest of the crowd vanished into the alleys and bars. He didn’t mind who knew it. That didn’t mean he always felt like justifying himself.
The car carrying Rocky circled around and drove by. As it slid past, Rocky rolled down the window and waved, with a smirk, to Noel. “Thank you, Mr. Locksley,” he mouthed, his words lost in the expanse of air between the road and the top steps of the courthouse. For a minute, there was a genuine expression of gratitude on his face. It made him look very much like someone else, someone who shared his look but not quite, in another place. Noel’s heart grow still. Then the look was gone; Rocky’s trademark grimace was back in place, shouting profanity as his driver carried him off to the miniature bordello that awaited him.
Why can't I stop thinking about him?
The world and his heart resumed their normal tempo, and Noel gritted his teeth. One of the missionary girls had spotted him, climbing with dignity up the steps towards him. This was the last thing he needed right now; these dames rarely spoke to him after a day like this, and when they did it was to tell him how long he would burn in the Devil’s damend fire for allowing such heinous men and women freedom to perpetuate their licentiousness. He didn’t want a lecture. He needed a stiff drink. He needed . . . to see him. He needed to head over to the speakeasy before his exhaustion caught up with him and unraveled his slick exterior in front of people he had no desire to be vulnerable in front of. He needed an exit.
“Mr. Locksley! It’s me, Eveline!”
Noel stopped, staring down at the girl approaching him in the failing twilight. She wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t frowning at him with judgmental disapproval, either. A huge sign condeming Rocky Foster in some creatively rhyming verse was clutched tightly in her gloved hand, a marked Bible in the other. Her friends, still down at the bottom of the steps, were whispering loudly to one another and calling for her to come back. She ignored them, continuing up to him. As he stood there, as he watched, the other girls muttered darkly to one another and moved on down the street, returning to the mission before darkness fell. Noel clutched his leather briefcase in tight fingers, reaching up with one hand to adjust his glasses as the girl stopped a few steps down from him and caught her breath, resting the sign on the concrete. “Hello, Mr. Locksley. I was hoping I’d see you here.”
He didn’t have to make himself smile at her. “That’s funny, Eveline. Your fellow saints are always telling me they hope they’ll see me, too. In hell.” She didn’t laugh. He hadn’t expected her to. Sighing silently, he shifted his briefcase to the other hand. “How are you? Enjoy your time off at home?”
Her expression didn’t change. “No. Daddy’s dead. That’s why I’m back.”
The matter-of-fact tone chilled him, but he didn’t let it show. “I’m sorry, Eveline.”
“Don’t be.” A faint smile. “I’m not.”
Noel raised an eyebrow at her. “You’re not?”
“Of course not, Mr. Locksley.” The smile grew wider. “He’s with God, now. What could make me happier?”
“Wasn’t your father the biggest loan shark in Cincinatti?”
A careful stare. “Yes.”
“Then how is he with God? Isn’t loan-sharking a sin?”
Her smile vanished, an angelic superiority overcoming her features. “He was a loan-shark. But he gave that way of life up years ago. He repented. Which I won’t waste my time trying to get you to do.”
“Ah, so you’ve learned your lesson, then? Well, that’s something, anyhow.”
They stood in silence for a moment, contemplating each other. Noel wondered about this girl, this straight-laced woman of the cloth who’d once had the audacity to throw her ideals out the window and help him and several prominent members of the city’s underworld out of a tight spot. All for reasons that he’d never gotten her to reveal. Before that, they had been always enemies, always on opposite sides of the picket lines outside the courthouse. After that, they’d been grudging friends. Then she’d left, gone home to Cincinatti to be with her dying father. Now she was back, and Noel was wondering what she wanted.
“You’re probably wondering what I want.”
Noel grinned slightly. “The thought had crossed my mind. I mean, no offense, but we’re still in separate corners of the ring, aren’t we?”
“Yes, we are.” In the dark, in her pale missionary dress, buttoned so tight, she looked like an unyielding statue of goodness. “But . . . I was wondering . . . if I might ask you something.”
“Eveline, for the hundredth time, I know the Ten Commandments. Christ . . . sorry. Um, jeez, you girls sure know how to belabor a point . . .”
“No.” Her voice was suddenly less confident. “I didn’t mean anything like that.” She subsided, reaching into the pocket of her dress with a nimble finger and pulling out a small trinket. It glittered dimly in the dark air; a small cameo, set in gold. She held it out at the tips of her fingers, away from her body, as if afraid something about it would contaminate her. Stepping closer, she held it out to Noel.
“If you see Ada . . . Mr. McCormack, would you please be so kind to return it to him?” Her eyes showed no emotion, but Noel guessed that was only because it was too dark for him to really see. “He gave it to me, just before I left for Cincinatti.” Her fingers trembled slightly. “I’ve kept it long enough, I think. You’ll give it to him? Please?”
Noel grimaced, taking the cameo from her. “Eveline . . . I’m not an errand boy . . .”
“And here I thought that’s all you were, Locksley. A glorified errand boy.”
The voice that cut through the night was sharp, honed to malicious perfection. Noel looked up quickly, stowing the cameo in his pocket and pulling Eveline closer, out of reflex. “Who’s there?” he called, spinning.
A condescending tsk whisked through their ears, echoing from the shadowed pillars at the top of the steps as the speaker stepped out into the wan light cast by the streetlamps. “Shame, Locksley. You don’t remember your old friends?” The limber, black-clad figure who melted out of the shadows seemed to ooze sexuality, and with it a kind of uneasy menace. Long red hair, cascading carelessly down her back. A black felt hat, set at a low angle across her brow. Next to her, standing as close and intimately as her shadow, was a second woman, hair of brown and features that were, deceptively, angelic.
Noel’s grimace deepened. “Good evening, Miss Foster. What can I do for you and dear Eleanore?” He tried to surreptitiously put Eveline behind him, masking her from their scrutiny.
Aileen Foster laughed derisively, stepping down from the protective darkness of the pillars, her spiked heels striking a fiery staccato on the stone. “You’re a mind-reader, Locksley. Isn’t he, Ellie?” Her eyes weren’t clouded by the dark; they were vivid, sparkling with some cunning intent as she advanced down the steps towards them. “A fabulously genuine, honest-to-fucking God mind-reader. What can you do for us?” she laughed. “That’s exactly why we’re here.”
“I don’t work for you, Aileen.” He winced, wishing that his retort hadn’t sounded quite so biting. This was not a person whose wrath one wanted to raise. With one hand, he tried to push Eveline away, down the stairs, out of the situation. But she clung tight to his back, listening, not breathing. Her ridiculous sign scraped the back of his legs.
Aileen’s red hair seemed to catch the glint of her eyes, highlighting her in a dangerous, hypnotic light. “Ellie and I are thinking you should change that.” Ellie smirked, standing guard at the top of the stairs, her hand resting just inside her coat. On the butt of a pearl-handled revolver, Noel was sure. “We were here, today.” The gangstress’s voice grew honeyed, coaxing, praising. “We saw how you thundered away at those witnesses. Rocky’s a sordid excuse for a cousin and an even worse criminal, and yet he’s free? How?” She smiled, and it made Noel shudder. There was nothing in it but venom. “Because of the magic of Mr. Noel Locksley.” Aileen exchanged a glance with Ellie. “We want you in our corner.” Her voice lowered meaningfully. “We are prepared to be very generous.”
“If I wanted to get laid, you’d not be my first choice.”
When her arm flew toward him, Noel was anticipating a slap. When her fist crashed into his jaw, it knocked him so off balance he tumbled halfway down the steps, his briefcase flying open and raining papers and documents everywhere. Eveline, suddenly revealed, ignored the other women and began dashing about, trying to keep his papers from being caught by an unforeseen wind.
Aileen shook her hand, licking her knuckles lazily. “Your face is pretty hard, Locksley.” She sneered. “Too bad your cock’s too soft for you to take a chance and side with what soon will be the real power in this town.”
A groan answered her. Noel got unsteadily to his feet, rubbing his chin and talking through clenched teeth. “I’m employed, Foster. I answer to the McCs. You got a problem with that,” and it was his turn to smile venemously, “I suggest you take it up with them. Abusing me isn’t going to win you any sympathy points.”
“No, but it sure does amuse the hell out of me.” She shifted her gaze to Eveline, a different sort of light coming into her eyes. Noel saw the feral, hungry way the gangstress’s eyes sized up the curves and soft contours of flesh hidden away beneath that missionary dress, and it made his stomach turn. “Hello,” Aileen said, stepping toward her, “what have we here?” Eveline froze, her righteous indignation failing her in the face of Aileen’s deadly charisma.
Noel acted without thinking. “She’s mine, Aileen,” he said, dashing up the steps. He hesitated a moment, then slid one arm around Eveline’s waist in an intimate gesture of ownership. “She’s my new doll. And she cost me a bundle, too, so hands off. Unless you get some cash to fork down? I lost a bundle last night to Caleb Tanner at poker, so I’d be obliged . . .”
It was harder to tell who was more surprised by this remark, Eveline or Aileen. The missionary’s eyes flew wide open, her body growing rigid at the touch of Noel’s arm around her. Aileen snorted. “A doll?” She gave Eveline an even closer look, licking her lips. “You, Locksley? That’s a first. You ain’t never had a doll, since I’ve ever I’ve been keeping tabs on you.” Her laugh turned cruel, jibing. “In fact, me and Ellie had a little bet going that you’d rather slide between the sheets with a certain cousin of mine, and I don't mean that bastard Rocky . . .
The color drained from Noel’s face. “Fuck you, Foster,” he said, “and, pretty please, don’t take that literally. Even if I did, which I don’t - liar - what business is it of yours if I get my kicks out of spread-eagling with someone from my own side of the street, eh?” He gestured up at Ellie, who was resting with an amused expression against one of the pillars. “You don’t see me sticking it to you because you get off with a dame, do you?”
“That’s because I have nothing to lose by being honest,” she retorted. Her eyes moved back to Eveline. “The Joe Blows in this town think it’s swell that I eat cunt. They get a fucking charge out of it.” She wiggled her tongue lasciviously at Eveline. “I wonder how many people, how of many of your . . . illustrious clients would retain your services, how your law firm would react, if they knew you need it hot and dirty up the arse. Hmmm?” One hand reached out, tracing a fingernail along Eveline’s face, which was frozen open with shock and disbelief at the blasphemous discourse being hurtled back and forth over her head. She recoiled from Aileen’s touch, and Noel pulled her violently away, nearly spitting at Aileen as he turned.
“Crawl back into your hole, Aileen,” he said. “Me and my doll are going for a drink.”
“Fine,” she yelled after them, retreating back into the shadows. “Unpleasant doing with business with you.” Muttering to each other, the two women vanished down the street. Noel stopped, watching them until he was sure they were gone, then pulled Eveline along after him in a rushed walk, not stopping for breath until they were several blocks safely away.
~ ~ ~ ~
“Get away from me.”
Eveline had gotten her wind, and her voice, back.
“Get away from me!” she yelled, pulling away from Noel, toppling against the wall of the alley they were cutting through. “I'm not your floozy, so don't touch me, you . . . you . . . you’re an abombination! All those horrible things she said were true, aren’t they? I should never have trusted you! And that woman . . . oh, that evil woman . . .” She hugged herself in despair, shivering uncontrollably.
Noel rolled his eyes, clicking his tongue. “Eveline, will you please snap out of your morally devastated apathy and face reality? Aileen was just trying to get to me by saying untrue things.” Liar. “She’s just pissed because I’m the best in the biz at helping good-for-nothings walk out of a courtroom without having to go back to a jail cell, and I won’t work for her. So she takes it out on me every now and then. It’s just talk. Really.” He sighed, ruffling through the crumpled papers the missionary girl had shoved indelicately back inside his briefcase. “You’re right on one score, though.”
She looked up, her pale face still frozen in horror, but with a hint of color returning to her cheeks. “What’s that?”
Noel snapped the case shut, the click ringing ominously through the alley. “She’s extremely, very, evil. She makes Rocky Foster look like a little boy stealing pies off windowsills.” He ran a hand over his face, taking a moment to tenderly rub the sore spot where Aileen had punched him. “Promise me you’ll try and avoid her, if you can.”
“I will.” Eveline stepped away from the wall, looking up and down the alley, as if for reassurance. “Though I don’t know why I should listen to you; you told me to avoid Adam . . . Mr. McCormack, and he was very pleasant to me during the time before I left.”
“Oh, really?” Noel snapped, his patience with her suddenly evaporated. “Then why the hell do you want me to give the cameo back? Huh?”
She flinched visibly, the curse word striking her as tangibly as a whip. Immediately, Noel regretted it. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, gesturing helplessly. “I didn’t mean to lose my temper. It’s just . . . you don’t know. You don’t know these people. I deal with them because I have to, and partly because I want to. A lot of them, Adam included, will do and say a lot of things to get what they want. Which doesn’t mean that you’re qualified to sit in judgment of them.” A swell of music cut across his words; a band somewhere was just gearing up for the night. “You have to cut me a break at some point, Eveline. If I make it a point of my life to see what’s redeeming about these men, these scum, and use that as justification for helping them . . . well, isn’t that just the least bit holy? Huh?”
Her shoe scuffed innocuously at the dirty pavement. “Maybe,” she said at last, so faintly Noel was almost uncertain he’d heard it. But then she looked at him, and the closest thing to an apology he’d ever get from her was written in her eyes.
He smiled. “All right ,then. Come have a drink with me at Will and Ciar’s. Eirlys is singing tonight; you'll love her, she's got the greatest voice this side of the Atlantic, if a humble lawyer's opinion counts for anything anymore. Come on, it’s a cold night; you need something to warm you up for the walk back to the mission.”
Eveline’s glare was very succinct.
Noel coughed in exasperation, walking away from her. “Fine, fine, go back on your own. I’ll see you at the courthouse Wednesday, I’m sure . . .”
He turned. “Yeah.”
She was wringing her hands, her gloves wrinkled, her sign forgotten against the wall, her Bible peeking obtrusively out of her front pocket. “Do they . . . do they serve coffee at this . . . this . . . establishment?”
He grinned truthfully, then, genuinely amused and pleased. “Why, yes, Eveline, I believe they do.”
Her answering smile was, he was surprised to notice, just as genuine.
She even let him take her arm as he escorted her to the speakeasy.
"There's just one more thing."
He sighed. "What now?"
". . . could I have the cameo back?"
Hope it meets with approval. I had great fun writing it.